Recently I've reflected long on my marriage, thinking both of the joys and challenges that have led us to this point in our lives and about where we are now. Anniversaries will do that, won't they? Especially when your better half is on a different continent and you miss him terribly.
As I do each year, I pulled out our wedding pictures. Thirteen years, as I said before, is the anniversary where I no longer can remember not being married. But 13 years is also enough time where wedding pictures and styles seem suddenly so outdated. We're getting older. The pictures, with our thin frames and young skin and we've-got-the-world-on-a-string smiles, declare it. But so does what's in my heart, because when I look at myself in those pictures I know now what I didn't know then. I knew I was making a covenant with the man beside me, but I didn't know what fulfilling that covenant would entail. I knew I wanted desperately to be married to him, but I didn't know how to be married.
Thirteen years later, I hope we're still babes of marriage. I hope we get to grow old together and that when we think back to where we are now, we'll appear so young and with still so much to learn about each other and about marriage. But in the thirteen years since we walked out of the doors of my hometown church as husband and wife, I've learned a thing or two.
Here's what I know so far:
- In conflict, System Shutdown doesn't work. That's what Kyle calls the silent treatment, my go-to way of handling frustration in our newlywed days. You know the one:What's wrong? Nothing. What's wrong? Nothing. I learned that, shockingly, Kyle can't read my mind. It works much better to think about what's truly bothering me and then say that out loud in a calm, unemotional way.
- The best encouragement is specific encouragement. It's great to say, "I love you", but it's even better to give specific reasons why. In addition, when I think about how thankful I am for Kyle or am proud of him for something he's done, I should always say it out loud. How will he know unless I tell him?
- When it comes to sex, practice makes perfect. The pastor who married us gave us this great piece of advice. I remember that he looked at me when he said it, as if for some reason it was meant more for me than for Kyle. Now I know that he was right and that it was meant more for me than for Kyle. A mutually satisfying sex life takes work, practice, and lots of communication.
- You have to do marriage on purpose. We have to be intentional about connecting, making time for each other, communicating, and planning where we want our marriage to be in the future. A good marriage isn't just going to happen. In fact, life will work against marriage, naturally pulling us apart from each other.
- Don't stop playing together. We must go away together, even though it is a hassle to get childcare and it costs money. We must go on dates, even though it is a hassle to get a babysitter and it costs money. See number four.
- Know why you're married. In the beginning, I was very focused on romance and feeling loved. You can imagine my disappointment when this didn't happen every moment of every day. I learned quickly that Kyle isn't there to make me happy. My marriage is not just about me and what I want. My marriage is, first and foremost, an example of the love and grace between Christ and his church. This means it's about sacrifice, service, intimacy and constantly being reconciled to one another. It's about our sanctification, our holiness.
- Men and women are different. Shocker, I know. I want to be loved and cherished and reassured of this daily. He wants to be respected, so much so that he equates respect with love. When facing difficulty, I want him to empathize with the emotion I'm feeling and he immediately filters out all emotion to get to a solution. My idea of a good conversation involves emotional sharing and his idea of a good conversation involves factual information and getting to the point. I grieve verbally and he grieves privately.
- The first year of marriage lays foundations that remain. How we started was important, whether it was personal habits, how we steward money and possessions, how we relate to extended family and in-laws, how we fight, how we connect, everything.
- My thought life is extremely important. Going into marriage, I knew that I should always speak with respect about and to my husband. But in marriage, I have learned that how I think about him is just as important. If I'm grumbling in my heart, noticing everything about him that frustrates me or that he does wrong, or if I'm comparing him negatively to other men, I have a difficult time relating to him with respect. But if I look for and appreciate the many qualities about him that are positive, I respond so differently to him.
- I can hinder his leadership in our home. Easy. Just correct him when he tries to help me but does it differently than me, demand control in every little decision, and criticize him when he fails. If I don't give him space and grace to lead, he won't.
What do you know so far about marriage?
This article was orignally published here.